As we have been reading through the book of Revelation on Sunday mornings, we have encountered more than once the paradox of what John hears and what John sees. Most recently, John heard “the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” which he then enumerated. But what did John see? “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” These are not two different groups, but the same group considered from different angles so as to draw out the complexities of the people of God.
Something similar happens in Revelation 5 that has bearing on our special celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. As John is confronted with a vision of the heavenly throne room, a sealed scroll is brought in, which cannot be opened by any man or angel. This realization that nobody was fit to open the scroll brought John to tears. But then John hears something. “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” So, he hears that a lion has conquered, and this lion is none other than the victorious Lord Jesus. Joel Beeke summarizes the impact of Jesus being described as a lion.
Jesus is the Lion, the King. He has immense power, majesty, and strength. He is the Christ of mighty works and uncompromising holiness. This Christ needs to be so powerful because of the task before Him. To lead the church through history and advance the kingdom of God, He must triumph over every one of the enemies of His people: Satan, the world, the false prophet, death, in the grave. Christ, of course, met them all throughout His life and overcame them all.
But what did John see? “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Again, Joel Beeke captures well the surprise when what John hears yields to what John sees.
John looks more closely. To his utter surprise, he sees a Lamb, bearing all the marks of having been slain. What would you have expected to see? Perhaps you might have expected a knight clad in shining armor, robed in purple, riding on a prancing steed, followed by the captives he has taken and wagonloads of spoil from the wars he has fought and won. But that is not the nature of this King. … This is a shock to [John]. It is something marvelous and totally unexpected.
What is so shocking is that the lion of the tribe of Judah conquered by way of suffering. By the painful and shameful death of the cross, Christ put to open shame the rulers and authorities of this world, especially sin and Satan (Col 2:15). We celebrate an empty tomb on Easter Sunday, and that is glorious, but we can’t forget that we’re celebrating an empty tomb. There was death before there was life and triumph, and the juxtaposition of what John hears with what John sees drive home the paradox that Christ defeated death by dying.
What is more, Christ continues to carry the marks of his victory through suffering. It is remarkable that in his glorified resurrection body, Christ sustained the wounds in his hands, feet, and side. When we see him face-to-face, the glory of the Lord will include the marks of his sacrifice for our sin and the satisfaction of the wrath of God for ever and ever. And those wounds will testify all the more to the preeminence of Christ, for by those wounds he made peace with God, by those wounds he has shown himself to be both Lord of creation and Lord of re-creation.